Washington Discovers Kyrgyz Akyn

by Laurence on 3/6/2005

In today’s Washington Post, Peter Finn reports from Bishkek:

Toss Tuuganba Abdiyev a word to riff on and he gets all jiggy, if the lexicon of hip-hop can be applied to a 68-year-old Kyrgyz musician who used to ad-lib verse in honor of the Communist Party and right now, to a storm of laughter, is singing about Bush, Putin and noodles.

Abdiyev is an akyn, a title given to the masters of a form of musical improvisation that dates back more than a millennium. It was usurped by the communists, nearly died after the fall of the Soviet Union, and is enjoying a revival as young Kyrgyz and Kazak musicians discover their own, ancient form of rapping.
In one of its most popular forms, called aitysh, the music is a contest between two performers who sit several feet apart and duel in sung verse, each cuing off the other’s words and ideas in a mixture of rhythmic singing, chanting and exclaiming.


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